When Storey Wertheimer joined her school’s Speech and Debate Team four years ago as a freshman in high school, she had no idea it would one day help her become a published author and advocate for the homeless.

Wertheimer remembers researching the news to find content for her speech, “and I found a statistic that said about 2.5 million children in America were homeless,” she said in an interview Thursday. “That’s an insane number and is one in 30 children in the United States.”

Despite attending school just a few miles away from the beach — a place where homeless residents can often be spotted — Wertheimer said she was shocked, “because we see homeless people all the time on the streets, but you don’t really see homeless children. And I feel like they’re a more neglected aspect of this community.”

Inspired to bring light to the topic, Wertheimer immediately got to work on a speech about the need to help homeless children, “and it was something that I really developed a passion for,” she said, mentioning she flew around the country for competitions and used the time to spread awareness about the issue.

Later on during her freshman year, Wertheimer and her peers were given an assignment in English class to create a portfolio that featured their poems.

The current senior at New West Charter School said she was looking through the poems one day after school and began talking with other students to see if they’d be interested in working with the local homeless population.

“We came up with the idea to have my peers submit poems and illustrations that I would make into a book that we could then publish and donate all of the proceeds to helping homeless children,” Wertheimer said, mentioning the group created a two-part book titled: “Animals Are out of this World.”

“A lot of my classmates were looking through the portfolios and the pet poems were always a favorite, because they’re so cute; they’re so relatable; and people have a universal love for animals, so we thought including animals was a really fun and easy way to get kids attention and connect with them,” Wertheimer said. “The second part we made is about outer space and space travel and stars, and we connected that to having dreams and aspirations,” so there’s some important messages in the book.

“They seem simple, cute and relatable for little kids,” Wertheimer said, “but every piece has different themes of perseverance, friendship or love and care.”

Published in March of this year, “Animals Are out of this World” has sold over 700 copies and raised more than $4,000 that’s been used to create various literacy initiatives at shelters like the Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women & Children.

“Originally, we wanted to fund some literacy programs at the Upward Bound House – Family Shelter, but they said they didn’t have the capacity at the moment,” Wertheimer said. “So instead, we donate 300 canned food items to the children at the Santa Monica shelter as an extension to the literacy efforts our project is trying to promote.”

Wertheimer added her peers decided to donate 100 percent of the book’s sales proceeds to “Verses for the Voiceless” because the project was created to help as many homeless children as possible.

“Our goal for next year is to raise $10,000 to really keep these programs running, and maybe expand them outside of the L.A. area, but first we just want to get these programs off the ground.” Wertheimer said, before persuading members of the public to spend $10 on a worthy cause.

“The book is just a really fun story for kids and adults alike. It appeals to all people but it also speaks to a really important cause,” Wertheimer said. “And being able to give literacy materials to kids who otherwise wouldn’t have access is a really amazing feeling. It’s just $10 and it will go a really long way.”

brennon@smdp.com

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